Marigolds by Eugenia Collier: The Impact of Compassion on People

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As a famous actress and activist, Susan Sarandon, once said, “ When you start to develop your powers of empathy and imagination, the whole world opens up to you”. This meaning that through experience, humans can gain empathy to learn many important and beneficial lessons from it. It also shows the importance of having empathy towards others. In the short story written by Eugenia Collier, Lizabeth struggles through the transition between childhood and adulthood. Lizabeth starts as a young girl whose family lived in a financially unstable community. One day, out of boredom, Lizabeth and her friends decide to throw rocks at Miss Lottie’s, the town’s castaway, patch of marigolds. Later in the day, Lizabeth feels ashamed of her actions and goes to bed. She then overhears her father crying over his struggle to be employed and decides to return to Miss Lottie’s yard. Lizabeth then decides to pull the marigolds out of the ground as a result of her conflicted emotions. Afterwards, Lizabeth empathizes with Miss Lottie when she realizes that the old woman had planted the marigolds to express a bit of joy though her life was rough. In the future, Lizabeth discovers that this event led her to transition from childhood into adulthood. Overall, people can learn many important life lessons after developing empathy within oneself. In the story, Lizabeth’s actions impacted her in a way that caused her to change as a person and into an adult, part of the process being that Lizabeth finally learned to empathize with Miss Lottie. For example, the short story says “ That violent, crazy act was the last act of childhood … I gazed upon a kind of reality which is hidden to childhood. The witch was no longer a witch but only a broken old woman who had dared to create beauty in the midst of ugliness and sterility”(StudySync 12). This implies the moment in which Lizabeth’s character began shifting into an adult. The last act of innocence was exchanged for maturity, understanding, and empathy. The words that the author uses such as “last act of childhood” and “a kind of reality which is hidden to childhood” leads readers to recognize that Lizabeth is finally transitioning out of her childhood stage in life. In addition, the author also stated, “ In that humiliating moment I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person”(StudySync 13).

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This communicates the point that Lizabeth’s actions in the story lead her to discover a new person within herself, or in other words, her adult self. Lizabeth understands that she has grown out of childhood at this moment because of the shame, guilt, and regret that she feels. Lastly, the author also says, “Whatever verve there was left in her, whatever was of love and beauty and joy that had not been squeezed out by life, had been there in the marigolds she had so tenderly cared for.” (StudySync 13). This is the moment in which Lizabeth uncovers the reality behind Miss Lottie and her marigolds. Going back to the quote by Susan Sarandon, Lizabeth empathizes with Miss Lottie and her rough situation and it leads her to discover new insight that she hadn’t seen before. The author explains Lizabeth’s changing character, from child to adult, using several key words and showing how Lizabeth empathized with Miss Lottie. However, in this short story Lizabeth’s adolescence, before transitioning into an adult, largely impacts her decisions and actions throughout the story. To begin with, the story states, “ Joy and rage and wild animal gladness and shame become tangled together in the multicolored skein of fourteen-going-on fifteen…”(StudySync 5).Therefore, the actions that she performs later throughout the story is mainly because of her age and all of the conflicted, confused emotions that she is feeling. Additionally, the story says “ The idea caught on at once, for annoying Miss Lottie was always fun. I was still child enough to scamper along with the group over rickety fences and through bushes that tore our already raggedy clothes, back to where Miss Lottie lived”(StudySync 7). Still being a child, Lizabeth still carries that trait of very creative imagination and the urge to go out and explore the outdoors. This then affects her childish action of ruining Miss Lottie’s marigold garden because of that summer boredom and wanting to go out and cause mischief. In addition, the author says “I said before that we children were not consciously aware of how thick were the bars of our cage. Perhaps we had some dim notion of what we were, and how little chance we had of being something else” (StudySync 9).

As an adult, Lizabeth is able to realize the effect on her actions that adolescence had. In conclusion, throughout the story we can discover that Lizabeth’s adolescence affected her actions. Furthermore, the adult Elizabeth learned an abundance of things from this experience. To begin with, the author says “For one does not have to be ignorant and poor to find that his life is as barren as the dusty yards of our town. And I too have planted marigolds”(StudySync 13). According to this, Lizabeth has learned from Miss Lottie to maintain positivity whenever possible. This is informing the readers that adult Lizabeth understands that although she is having a rough time or going through a rough situation, there is always something she can do to make an effort at improving her life. We can also conclude that Lizabeth became stronger and more prepared for the world after this specific event. Additionally, the author says “This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence. The years have taken me worlds away from that time and that place, from the dust and squalor of our lives, and from the bright thing that I destroyed in a blind, childish striking out at God knows what” (StudySync 13). This is informing us that although much time has passed, Lizabeth still remembers this and keeps it lingering in her mind, meaning that she has learned much from that experience. Adding on to this, an example of adults learning from past experiences is moving into college. For some, moving into college can be a very large learning experience in several ways. It can be the first step into independence and can be when many learn from their mistakes. All of the unforgettable experiences that come with being in college can largely impact people and cause them to learn so much that they can use it in the future.

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